May 31, 2020
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Who Stole My Data?

A netizen’s exasperating encounters with wifi ‘plans’

Who Stole My Data?
Illustration by Saahil
Who Stole My Data?

In the past five years or so, WiFi has become as ess­ential to me as running water in my shower. Sometimes I wonder how we survived the pre-int­ernet days. And there is guilt, too, of course, for the copious share of e-waste I have generated: out-of-use dongles, routers, chargers and other accessories I bought and discarded over the years in the pursuit of uninterrupted connectivity. I admit I have been a bit of a sucker on the question of being able to choose the right plan and the best provider. Can this match even be made in heaven?

I hate the feeling when I have to go down in my wife’s estimation every time our favourite series on the Netflix stops due to ‘no internet connection’. My little girl too is disappointed with me when there is no connection at her Mimi la Souris hour.

A few months ago, on a grumpy weekend afternoon sans WiFi (for a year we were victims of ‘no internet on weekends’ thanks to our MTNL connection), two young men knocked at my door to demonstrate the Airtel 4G plug-and-play router. For the gizmo, they said, I had to shell out two-and-a-half grand and, voila, I could get 30 GB of data at a speed of 25 mbps at the same price I was getting 20 GB of my Airtel 3G at 5 mbps speed.

Bravo, I said to myself. This ‘plan’ sounded as nutritious as our breakfast sprouts.

With my new 4G, it appeared I had made some headway in speed. Maybe not the full throttle of 25 mbps as the sales demo showed, yet at 11 mbps, it was a magnificent improvement that allowed me to stream in and out of my new liner with glee. The sprite, however, was short-lived—the wind went out of the sail in just about a week with a rude SMS alerting me that data limit was about to get over.

A cold glass of water by my side, I gathered all my poise and patience to make a call to the toll-free number. This seemed my lucky day. The operator came on the line instantly, sparing me the grind of having to hear the Airtel caller tune repeat itself a zillion times, reminding me intermittently on how important my call is to them. Or was I among the first few suckers on 4G?

To my plaint I was told, change your user name and password. “Someone is stealing your data,” Mr Holmes detected from the other end.

“What do I do for the rest of the month?” I exclaim.

“Buy our smartbytes,” I am advised to coast through the billing cycle.

I allow some more of my bread to be nibbled at. My data coffer after the recharge, however, lasts only a few days before I am alerted yet again that my data limit has reached 90 per cent. By the time I could turn off the water tap in the kitchen, switch my laptop on to check for the remaining data left, even the remainder 10 per cent has gone. The browser page is not loading anymore. I am offline.

I inquire again, buy recharge data again. This time I am told switching off my router device during the night will prevent data theft! I cringe at this idiotic explanation, yet I comply. The same result: My data vanishes again in a few days.

Exasperated, I buy data again, seek an explanation again. I am told my phone and tablet are updating all the Apps stored in them, therefore the loss of data. I must switch off all my devices during the night to guard my data. Before the operator could go on to say that my data is being eaten up by the toaster, washing machine, fridge and the press in the house, I hang up.

By now I am avoiding eye contact with my wife whenever we broach the subject of internet. I am sure she is having a good laugh at my gullibility. I call Mr Tollfree again, this time to ask for a disconnection. The generous call centre operator offers me a 25 per cent discount on my bill instantly on hearing my threat of discontinuing the service. But the empowered call-centre personnel has no explanation to my simple query: How can my data consumption multiply so many fold in a 4G connection compared to my earlier 3G connection, when my usage (primarily surfing and streaming) is the same? I am still seeking answers.

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